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2020 Canucks Top 25 Under 25: #7 Jake Virtanen

Can the 24-year-old improve on his breakout season?

New York Islanders v Vancouver Canucks
Jake Virtanen is entering his sixth NHL season with the Vancouver Canucks.
Getty Images

Welcome to the Canucks Top 25 Under 25 Rankings, the series that makes you wish you were under 25 again. The list includes all players born after January 1st, 1996. Five staff writers (Beggsy, Westy, CanucksAbbyFan2, Trevor Connors, Markus Meyer) and one former staff writer (Daniel Gee, Elite Prospects) cast votes for the project.

It’s almost hard to believe that Jake Virtanen is about to enter his sixth season as Vancouver Canuck. And still, many aren’t quite sure what his full potential is.

By this point in his career, however, we should have a pretty strong idea.

Virtanen has always been known as a surprisingly quick player for his size. He also has a great shot, and he’s a dangerous player off of the rush.

However, he doesn’t use his physicality as much as you’d like for someone his size. He’s also not trusted as a defensive-minded forward, although Green did trust him in some key defensive moments during the playoffs.

This is all to say that the confusion and unpredictability surrounding Virtanen’s career arc is justified. That’s even reflected in our staff rankings as well, as no other player in the top half of our list had a bigger spread between the highest vote (4th) and the lowest (11th).

So, as Virtanen enters his sixth NHL season, that’s why we’re still having debates about whether he belongs in the Canucks top-six or not.

Part of the reason behind this debate is that Virtanen had somewhat of a breakout season last year, with 18 goals and 36 points in 69 games. At even-strength, his 1.93 points-per-60 was a borderline first-line scoring rate, and he achieved that despite ranking 10th among Canucks forwards in ice time.

Based on those numbers, the Canucks scored somewhat of a bargain when they re-signed Jake Virtanen to a two-year extension worth $5.1 million dollars. However, the last year of the deal will see Virtanen making $3.4 million, giving him two years to prove that he’s worth qualifying at that dollar amount.

What’s Next for Virtanen?

Many speculated that Virtanen might be a victim of the numbers game during the offseason, especially with the emergence of Tyler Toffoli. However, the Canucks let Toffoli walk in free agency, and decided to retain the cheaper, less-effective Virtanen.

At 24 years old, Virtanen is theoretically entering the prime of his career. With that expectation, you should expect him to improve upon the 20-goal, 40-point pace that he was on last season.

There’s no doubt that he can score goals. You can see from the highlight package below that he scored with a variety of different linemates last season.

That being said, his odds of a true breakout out in 2021 do hinge on where he plays in the line-up. Those odds looked good coming into training camp, considering that a spot in the top-six was hers to lose.

However, he might already be behind the eight-ball, with 20-year-old rookie Nils Hoglander nabbing a spot in the top-six instead of Virtanen early in camp.

That recent development helps create a fitting narrative for Virtanen. While the skills are evident, the consistency never has been. It’s why Virtanen will likely platoon as a solid middle-six forward at the NHL level, rather than someone who’s going to be a top-six forward for years to come.

It’s also why he only finishes seventh on our Top 25 Under 25 list, with two dudes who have yet to play an NHL game finishing ahead of him in our rankings.

Make sure you bookmark this if you’re a true Virtanen believer, so that you can virtually waggle your fingers at us when Shotgun Jake scores at a 25-goal, 50-point pace in this upcoming season.